What can I say about Heath Braun other then he is one of the nicest guys I have ever met, with an amazing heart and a killer eye that finds beauty in everything. His skills with a camera far exceed not just in still form but video as well. This allows Heath to shine light on the motorcycle culture of Texas very well. I first met Heath two years ago, he was looking like a drenched rat from riding in the rain nonstop from Austin to Milwaukee. The first thing he ever said to me was "Hey man, can I get one of those beers?" I knew instantly we would be good friends. I found out later about his skills behind the camera. They were something out of magazines and things amateurs just don't do. He finds the chaotic stuff, the beauty, and the rawness that excites us all. That's why I love his imagery so much. He has just released his very first book called "The Great White Bison Volume 1" and it is truly remarkable. I am so excited and honored to have not only a friend but a phenomenal photographer such as Heath coming up to Fuel Cleveland on May 9th to display his work! We sat and talked a bit over the inter webs and this is what came of it. Enjoy!
Heath Braun, where is the place you call home? Where were you born?
H: I was born in a small town called Yakima, Washington and went to school in Seattle and Portland. I now live in Austin, TX and have lived in Texas for about three years, but I think I'll always call the Pacific Northwest home.
The Great White Bison, what is it? Where did come from?
H: The Great White Bison is an all encompassing name for my photography, it comes from a lifelong interest/obsession with the story of the American buffalo and it's cultural impact on this country's history. The short version is that the bison my spirit animal.
How long have you been creating artistically, how long with a camera in hand?
H: I started shooting photos my freshman year of high school when a neighbor gave me a Pentax 35mm camera for mowing her lawn. I was playing in a band and going to shows every weekend and always had a camera in my hand, and once I got in a darkroom at the local community college I was hooked, I essentially spent the next 8 years living in and out of darkrooms.
What is some of the craziest moments on the road you ever encountered?
H: The most awe inspiring was riding through Yellowstone and getting stopped by a herd of over 100 bison. It was really incredible. There were a ton of cars just stopped because the herd was impassable, and these giant, beautiful creatures just start walking past me with nothing between us, so close I could have reached out and touched them.
The scariest was riding with about 8 guys and watching my buddy, Steve Gill, get run off the road doing about 70 into a gravel ditch and somehow he was able to stay on two wheels and essentially jump his bike back out of the ditch and back onto the highway without missing a beat.
There is a video I saw once of you dancing in a yellow rain suit in the middle of a road, do you remember what song you were singing? That was 3 days of riding in the rain from Austin to Milwaukee, does that happen a lot to you or only when you are with Traveling Dave?
H: Haha I believe I was singing 'eye of the tiger'. I have a nasty habit of getting a song stuck in my head and singing it out loud as loud as possible while flying down the road, and once we stop the bikes I'm usually still singing.
The rain was a killer on that trip, essentially adding an entire day to our ride up there. As much as I would love to blame Dave for the rain, it seems to follow me as well. I think it's a northwest thing. It doesn't bother me too much though, it usually makes for a better story.
H: Favorite moments are hard, because I have my favorite images, but it's hard to really capture the completeness of a moment, ya know? I think anytime a few of us are riding out to go camping on a random weekend are when my favorite images are captured.
What inspires you and drives your passion for motorcycles, and photography?
H: The people I've met since I started riding and seeing the creativity that has exploded in the last few years out of this community has been really incredible to watch. Seeing other people's work, whether it's a bike they're building or other folks out having adventures and making great photos, it drives me to be more creative personally.
H: I love shooting medium format film on my Pentax 6x7, but when I'm shooting motorcycles I'm usually using my Nikon.
H: Well, I would say that still photography comes much more naturally to me. I've slowly been teaching myself video editing over the past couple of years. They go pretty hand in hand for me as far as shooting goes, I'm able to switch pretty seamlessly from shooting stills to video while riding, it just depends on the situation and what I'm using the footage for. I like shooting videos at events and stuff, because I feel like I can tell a more narrative story. And I like shooting photos more when I'm just hanging out and riding with friends. Since starting the book, video stuff has taken a bit of a backseat to straight photography, though I'm hoping to do more in 2015.
What vision or message do try and put into your work?
H: I don't know if I have a vision or message in my work as much as I have a documentary focus. I try to create compelling images that are snapshots of good times with good people riding, creating, and enjoying these machines that we all love.
Your new book “The Great White Bison, Volume 1” is amazing, what challenges did you face with it and how does it feel to have tangible and beautiful work forever in history in an actual book?
H: It is definitely an incredible feeling. The reason for doing the book was mainly being tired of creating images and not using them anywhere. I put them on Instagram and my website, but I grew up printing in a darkroom and having physical prints to show for it. I wanted to create a physical piece of work that people could hold in their hands and flip through the pages and have a tangible thing to enjoy. I had no idea that so many people would be into it. I thought it would be something that my friends would like and maybe a few people would be into but I have received such a positive response from it, it's really been overwhelming and super humbling. The main challenge I faced was myself. I knew I wanted to make a book but I knew that at this point it wasn't going to be the end all, be all of my work, that's why it is volume 1. I'm hoping to release a volume 2 in the next 6 months or so and I want it to be a pretty regular thing, but I'm not really a designer and I'm not a publisher, I'm a dude with a camera that likes to ride motorcycles, so the biggest challenges are definitely going to be teaching myself the skills to create and design another good looking book.
Who did you look up to as a kid and did they have influence on you as a person today?
H: My neighbor Jason was always a pretty big influence on me. In the summer he would take me dirt biking in the country and in the winter we would go snowmobiling in the mountains. When I finished college I decided that I wanted to sell my car and buy a motorcycle. I knew nothing about bikes so he took me to check out my first real bike, the Honda Shadow, that I still ride to this day. I was lucky enough to see him over the holidays this year and give him a copy of my book, he had no idea that I still ride or the influence that those little moments with him would have on my life.
Whats your dream machine?
H: Dream machine is hard, I want something that I've built from the ground up, that is reliable daily and that I could just hop on and ride a couple of thousand miles.
Whats one place you would want to go if you could just jump on your bike and leave town right now?
H: I've had a really strong desire to ride down the east coast of Mexico to Belize. I really want to ride in another country as I've done a little bit of international traveling but I've never done it on a motorcycle before.
Any stories other interesting facts you would like to share?
H: Can't think of too much for this one, except for the time that you took a picture of my ass tattoo and a buddy bought it and put it on his wall, without knowing it was me.
Is there any life mottos or words of wisdom you would like to give?
H: Do what makes you happy.
Black Sabbath, Ozzy or Dio?
Black Sabbath, Ozzy or Dio?
H: Wait, is this a real question? Ozzy.
What’s your favorite 90’s show?
H: Pete and Pete.
Anyone you want to give a shout out or thank?
H: I want to thank my wonderful girlfriend Mary Catherine for putting up with my dirty, loud, and probably obnoxious antics, my parents and my sister for their support, and every single person that has ever let me shoot pictures of them and share a bit of their lives with other people.
You can see more of Heath's work not only at Fuel Cleveland on May 9th but on his website: www.thegreatwhitebison.com